5 Easy Steps for Selecting Professional References Who Will Help You Land the Job

May 8th, 2017 Written by: Molly Masterson

Deciding how and who to select for job references is often the last hurdle standing between a job seeker and receiving a job offer. It also can be the step that causes job seekers the most anxiety, as asking for help can be uncomfortable.

The people that will speak on the record for your experiences and your skill set are a vital element of the evaluation process by the company you’re hoping to join. According to Monster, a survey found that 21% of job candidates are eliminated from consideration after speaking with their references.

This post will provide you with five easy steps to follow in order to avoid falling into that 21%, and put you on the right path to obtaining employment.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Any person you ask to be your reference has almost certainly had to ask someone to do the same for them at some point in their professional lives. Also, you’ll likely become a reference for someone at some point, too.

Try to get past the uncomfortability of asking someone to do you a favor. Chances are they’ll feel flattered and will be happy to do so. The worse thing that can happen is that they don’t respond or say no.

2. Select the right references.

Selecting the right reference comes down to answering a pair of questions about yourself:

Which professionals have you interacted with that can best speak about you? 

A key word to focus on in the first question is “professionals”. No matter how well a friend or relative knows you, you want to avoid using them if you can.

Select references who have professional standing that will be impressive to the hiring manager or recruiter handling your application. Examples of these types of professionals are teachers, supervisors and established community members. This can also be co-workers in some cases.

Most importantly, you want this person to be uniquely aware of who you are and the contributions you’ve made in your current or past roles. Write out a list of the professionals who know you, and organize them by the skills that they can speak on.

Who on that list can best speak to your ability to succeed in the job you’re applying for? 

Now that you have your list of professionals organized by skill set, segment your list by the skills the job you’re going after is calling for. Take these skills directly from the description of the role on the job listing.

Depending on the employer, a candidate will typically need two to three references. Select people who can speak to more than one specific element of your character so they can paint a broad, positive portrait of all your capabilities to your prospective employer. In addition, try to avoid redundancies such as listing three professors or three supervisors if possible.

3. Reach out to potential references to secure their support.

A common mistake many job seekers make is not asking for permission to use people as professional references. An unannounced inquiry will catch a person off guard, and they’ll be less equipped to give you a glowing recommendation.

Reach out to prospective references by phone or a professionally written email. State your purpose and let them know why you chose them. If you thought to include them as a potential reference, you must harbor a good deal of respect for them, so tell them that. It will flatter them and make them more apt to help you out.

Lastly, ask them for their preferred contact information. Everyone has their own preferences on how and when they’d like to be reached, so take this as an opportunity to make it convenient for them to be a reference.

4. Coach your references.

After you’ve gained permission to use them as references, coach them on more specifics about the job you’re applying for. When your prospecting employer reaches out to your reference, this bit of coaching will allow for your reference to be focused and prepared to speak to the characteristics of you that makes you the best fit for the job.

5. Thank your references and keep them informed.

Once you’ve submitted your references to your potential employer, it may seem like all you have to do now is wait. But you should take this time to send personalized thank-yous to each of your references. Regardless of whether you get the job or not, honor them for their willingness to help you out.

A handwritten thank-you is always a nice touch. In your thank-you, tell your reference that you’ll be keeping them updated on the process. Keeping them informed has two benefits:

  • Your reference is invested in the process, and will be curious to see if their contribution to your application allowed you to secure the position.
  • If you don’t get the job, there will soon be another like it that will require you to provide references once again. By keeping your references in the loop, you’ll be able to streamline the process the second time around.

Start Your Reference Search

By taking the time to select the right references, you have the opportunity to further sell employers on your experience, skills and fit for the job. Use these tips to find, reach out and coach the people in a position to help you.

Want more tips to fuel your job hunt? Take a peek at some of our most recent blog posts including tips on writing a excellent cover letter and nine interview fails you’ll want to avoid committing yourself.

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